Thai Court Orders Popular Opposition Party Disbanded
Potent tool wielded by deep state wipes out Future Forward Party
By: Pitthaya Pookaman
The Thai Constitutional Court today (February 21) agreed to dissolve the Future Forward Party for allegedly receiving illegal political contributions and banned the party’s executive committee members from engaging in political activities or forming another political party for a period of 10 years, thus snuffing out the most potent threat to the ruling junta – and possibly daring widespread political anger.
The Thai Election Commission ruled earlier that Bt191 million (US$6.1 million) received from Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (above), the FFP’s popular leader, was illegal. The FFP maintained that it had not broken any laws in receiving the loan from Thanathorn and that no laws forbade political parties from receiving loans in transparent contributions.
The election commission, appointed by the military junta, was obviously blinded to the fact that the government-led Palang Pracharat Party received Bt650 million from big private companies in one gala dinner for use in its 2019 general election campaign. It was the same election commission that recommended that the Constitutional Court order the dissolution of pro-democracy Thai Raksa Chart Party before the general election and recalibrated the election results to give proportional seats to smaller parties in order to minimize the gains of the Pheu Thai Party. The dictum “he who pays the piper rules the tune” has never been so true.
A few weeks earlier, the Constitutional Court, notorious for disbanding political parties that were adversaries of the deep state militarist-cum-elite establishment, threw out a flimsy allegation, popularly called the “Illuminati case,” that the FFP had tried to overthrow the monarchy. Many understood that the Court’s decision was a sham that was meant to demonstrate a public facade of impartiality, paving the way for the real bombshell which would eventually serve to reaffirm the miscarriage of Thai justice.
The Future Forward Party (FFP) in its political debut finished a strong third in last year’s general election, reaping 17 percent of the votes nationwide. When teamed up with the Pheu Thai Party, which has the majority seats in the House of Representatives, and other pro-democracy parties, the combined opposition bench in the House can be a destabilizing force for the government, which has a razor-thin majority in the House. The government is led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who brought down the democratically elected government led by Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party in 2014.
The dissolution of the FFP effectively removes the threat of an embarrassing no-confidence vote in the Parliament although some FFP members of parliament can move to a reserved party or the parties of their own choice. Hence, it is clear that the move towards the dissolution was politically motivated and aimed at maintaining a government majority in the Lower House, ensuring the grip on power of Prayuth and his allies, who are backed by the militarists, the deep state elite establishment, and the big business enterprises.
The FFP has been the most outspoken party among the opposition parties and is openly critical of the military. On the political spectrum of the opposition parties, the FFP is regarded as an extreme Leftist party whilst the Pheu Thai Party can be placed in the more conservative center-right.
Previously Thanathorn, the FFP’s leader and a former candidate for premiership, was disqualified from sitting in the Parliament by the Constitutional Court on a charge of violation of election law by holding media shares even though a number of government MPs also hold media shares but have not been penalized by the same Court.
The media hype on the dissolution of the FFP should not obscure the dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) in 2006 after a military coup that ousted the popularly elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai Party’s leader. That set a dangerous precedent for future dissolutions by the Constitutional Court of Thai Rak Thai’s surrogate parties, the Palang Prachachon Party (PPT), the Chart Thai Party, and the Machima Thipatai Party in 2008. In what is regarded as a judicial freak, the Thai Court overturned, 13 years later, the decision of the Constitutional Court on the dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party and the disbandment of its executive members from politics for five years. By that time, irreparable damage had already been done to the TRT and its members.
Party dissolution has now become a convenient tool to destroy opposing parties without due regard to the interest of the country or the people who support them. Contrived misdemeanours by political parties do not warrant party dissolution as it does not threaten the national security or the survival of the country. There is no provision in the current Constitution that would allow the Constitutional Court to dissolve political parties. The Constitutional Court’s preoccupation in dissolving political parties is inhibiting the development of political parties which is an indispensable part in the development of democracy.
With Thailand boasting the world’s second-highest number of military coups, second only to Sudan, it has also become the world’s top pioneer in dissolving political parties. Thailand’s authoritarian forces are thin-skinned in their toleration of pro-democracy forces and are prone to initiate dissolution procedures more as a routine rather than last-ditch extreme measures. The question is how long the Thai people will remain docile.
Pitthaya Pookaman is a former Thai ambassador to several countries and a long-time contributor to Asia Sentinel. He lives in Bangkok.